We are in the first days of a new year. Something new is such a delight. There is deep satisfaction in the idea of new. A clean start, a new beginning, something different and fresh, redesigned, renewed, restored – an inspiring thought.
We have just relived the days of Christmas again. On that first Christmas night, very few people realized the revolutionary change that was imminent. The promise came at last. Over many centuries that moment was prophesied, expected, longed for and maybe even doubted in the delay. It could also be that all the expectation over the generations made the people tired of waiting; one could call it promise-fatigue – doubting the outcome, the promise and even the God promising.
Where do you stand Pebble pal? Do you hold fast, running the race with endurance and faith to press in to your miracle of intervention? Do not give up. Every Christmas and every Easter stand as witnesses of the reliability of God’s promises. Surely it will come. As certain as we are that the seasons will change and day and night will come – a rhythm that has never been interrupted according to the promise of Genesis 8:22.
“While the earth remains,
Seedtime and harvest,
Cold and heat,
Winter and summer,
And day and night
Shall not cease.”
How sure are you about day and night and summer and winter? Exactly that certainty underscores God’s promises. How can we raise our expectations? By faith. There is only one way we can boost our faith.
So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Romans 10:17)
We are living in a world where evil surrounds us exactly as we have seen in the previous chapter (17) of Revelation. Immorality, lies, cruelty, oppression, poverty and famine, war and suffering depress my spirit within a few minutes of watching the news. Half the people are thrilled with leaders while the other half cry in despair about seemingly irreconcilable differences in political opinions. I cry out to God to grant wisdom to our world leaders to make the decisions for real progress and upliftment of those who need it most. According to Miriam Webster uplift means to raise to a higher social, intellectual, or moral level or condition. We need that, the world needs that – Jesus is the only One to work a miracle of restoration within a person and his circumstances. He is the answer. What a privilege to know Him.
When we look at the world around us, we see the despair and destruction. When will it end and will it ever end are the questions flung towards the heavens. For any human being the scale of earth’s tragedy is just too big and overwhelming. We need God! We need a good God, an almighty God and a loving God to take care of this mess. This is Who we know, Pebble pal. Our loving Father is “abounding in goodness and truth”, the almighty One, the God of miracles, the Prince of Peace, the wonderful Counselor, the everlasting Father.
Chapter 18 of Revelation is a doom song, in other languages called a song of sorrow, which is common in prophetic literature. We read in Isaiah 13:19-22 a doom song about ancient Babylon and in Isaiah 34:11-15 about Edom. Jeremiah 50:39 and 51:37 is part of the doom songs about Babylon. God judges evil, but it is always with the sorrow of what could have been if they chose salvation. Zephaniah 2:13-15 contains a doom song about Nineveh, here quoted as an example.
And He will stretch out His hand against the north, Destroy Assyria,
And make Nineveh a desolation, As dry as the wilderness.
Here in Revelation 18 the angel comes with the light of God upon him. John might have been thinking about Ezekiel’s description.
He brought me to the gate, the gate facing east; and behold the glory of the God of Israel came from the east; and the sound of his coming was like the sound of many waters; and the earth shone with his glory.” (Ezekiel 43:1-2)
H.B. Swete writes of this angel: “So recently he has come from the Presence that in passing he brings a broad belt of light across the dark earth.”
Before the destruction, God is calling His people out (18:4), as always throughout history. We need to come out from among them just as:
- Abraham – Genesis 12:1
- Lot – Genesis 19:12-14
- Moses – Numbers 16:23-26 – from the tents of wicked men of rebellion.
- Isaiah – Isaiah 48:20
- Jeremiah – Jeremiah 50:8, 51:6,45.
- Paul asks believers in 2 Corinthians 6:14-15:
Do not be mismatched with unbelievers. For what partnership have righteousness and iniquity? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial?
… and 1 Timothy 5:22:
Do not participate in another man’s sins; keep yourself pure.
How does one live this practically? One cannot leave this world altogether. In the words of one commentator:
[The words] imply a certain “aloofness of spirit maintained in the very heart of the world’s traffic.” They describe the essential apartness of the Christian from the world. The commonest word for the Christian in the New Testament is the Greek hagios whose basic meaning is different. The Christian is not conformed to the world but transformed from the world (Romans 12:2). It is not a question of retiring from the world; it is a question of living differently within the world.
The vengeance of God on the pride of Babylon (18: 6-8) speaks of punishment. The instruction is to an angel, not to the people. Vengeance always belongs to God. It will come according to His command and always just; more just than humanity could ever hope to be.
Man reaps that which he sows. Jesus said:
The measure you give will be the measure you get. (Matthew 7:2)
The concept of double punishment or double reward, or double payment for loss was often found in Jewish laws. (Exodus 22:4,7,9)
Pride will be humiliated. Rome’s sin is pride. Often sin can be “argued” back to the root of pride. (Isaiah 3:16 -17)
Tyre is condemned because she has said: “I am perfect in beauty”. (Ezekiel 27:3)
In Greek hubris means arrogance, which literally means: has no need of God. In the Strong’s definition it is explained further:
Pride is an inwardly directed emotion that carries two antithetical meanings. With a negative connotation pride refers to a foolishly and irrationally corrupt sense of one’s personal value, status or accomplishments
The whole rest of the chapter is a dirges [a lament for the dead, especially one forming part of a funeral rite] for Rome as a symbol of evil society in the same measure as Babylon and all aspects of her social order including the kings (18:9-10) merchants (18:11-16) and shipmasters and sailors (18:17-19). We hear about the greatness, wealth and luxury of evil society.
This part of the vision is almost an echo of Roman literature and the writings of historians on Roman society from Nero to Marcus Aurelius, Satires of Juvenal, Lives of the Caesars and the works of Tacitus.
In comparison with these books nothing John wrote about Rome could be an exaggeration.
Even the Talmud (Jewish Bible) said ten measures of wealth went to Rome and the rest received only one. Scholars think we are babes in the matter of enjoyment and luxury compared to that of the ancient world. There existed almost a desperate competition in ostentation. Everything was done for show. To desire the impossible was deemed impressive. The first century world poured its riches into the Roman Empire from east to west. The money possessed and spent was colossal. Caligula and Nero were among the biggest spenders. It is said that they squandered the income from three provinces in one day.
One Roman historian writes of Caligula: “In reckless extravagance he outdid the prodigals of all times in ingenuity, inventing new sorts of baths and unnatural varieties of food and feasts; for he would bathe in hot or cold perfumed oils, drink pearls of great price dissolved in vinegar, and set before his guests loaves and meats of gold.” He even built galleys whose sterns were studded with pearls. Of Nero Suetonius tells us that he compelled people to set before him banquets costing more than 20,000 British pounds. “He never wore the same garment twice. He played at dice for 2,000 British pounds per point. He fished with a golden net drawn by cords woven of purple and scarlet threads. It is said that he never made a journey with less than a thousand carriages, with his mules shod with silver.”
Drinking pearls dissolved in vinegar was a common ostentation. Cleopatra is said to have dissolved and drunk a pearl worth 80,000 British pounds. Valerius Maximus at a feast set a pearl to drink before every guest, and he himself, Horace tells, swallowed the pearl from Metalla’s ear-ring dissolved in wine that he might be able to say that he had swallowed a million sesterces in a gulp.
In the time when John was writing a kind of insanity of wanton extravagance, to which it is very difficult to find any parallel in history, had invaded Rome.
When Rome fell, the merchants lamented all over the world, as they supplied her extravagance and were enriched in the process (18:11-16). It reminds of the lament of the kings and merchants over Tyre in Ezekiel 26:1-21, 27: 1-36.
The lament of the merchants is purely selfish. The markets and wealth of the merchants and kings stand afar off to watch Rome’s demise. There is, of course, no helping hand, no love since the only bond was luxury and trade.
Rome had a passion for silver. For many years they had as much as 40 000 slaves in silver mines. Pliny tells us that women would bathe only in silver baths, soldiers had swords with silver hilts and scabbards with silver chains. Even poor women had silver anklets and slaves had silver mirrors.
Precious stones were brought to the West by Alexander the Great.
Of this Plinius said: the fascination of a gem was that the majestic might of nature presented itself in a limited space.
One of the strangest of ancient beliefs was that precious stones had medicinal qualities. Today in New Age tradition all sorts of crystal are sold with the promise of well being and healing.
Of all stones the Romans loved pearls more than any other. Linen came from Egypt. Purple came from Phoenicia. It is derived from phoinos, which means blood red. Ancient purple was redder than today. It was made from a shellfish vein and had to be extracted as the little creature dies. It dried up quickly and only one drop came from each fish. Silk came from China. It was far away and sold for a pound of gold. Scarlet was used for banqueting couches to supplement very ostentatious furnishings.
Woods, used for the many furnishings in the palaces of the noble, came from North Africa. It was called thyine in Latin. It was a citrus wood, sweet smelling and beautifully grained. The tree was not very large and that made tabletops rare. Tables were made with marble legs. Nero had 300 of these tables in his palace.
Ivory, from the elephants of Africa, was used decoratively in sculptures, statues and swords.
Bronze came from Corinth, iron from Spain. Rome had a special office to import the finest marble from wherever it was mined. Cinnamon was brought in from India and Zanzibar. All sorts of spices were used in the oils for dressing hair and preparing for funerals.
Incense was made of stacte, onycha, galbanum and frankincense, which are all perfumed gums or balsams (Exodus 30:34-38).
Myrrh was the gum resin of a shrub which grew mainly in Yemen and in North Africa. It was medically used as an astringent, a stimulant, and an antiseptic. It was also used as a perfume and for the embalming of bodies. Frankincense was the gum resin produced by a tree of the genus Boswellia. It was used for perfume for the body, for the sweetening and flavouring of wine, for oil for lamps and for sacrificial incense.
In the ancient world wine was universally drunk, but drunkenness was regarded as a grave disgrace. Wine was usually highly diluted, in the proportion of two parts of wine to five parts of water. Even slaves had abundant wine as part of their daily ration.
The chariots here mentioned was called rede. They were not racing or military chariots. They were four-wheeled private chariots, and the aristocrats of Rome often had them silver-plated.
Slaves and the souls of men mentioned here can be explained by the language of the ancient world. The word used for slave is soma, which literally means a body. The slave market was called the somatemporos, literally the place where bodies are sold. A slave is sold body and soul into the possession of his master.
Roman civilization was built on slavery and fully relied on it for its existence. Any given time there were around 60 000 000 slaves throughout the Empire. It was not unusual for one household to own 400 slaves. They used slaves like the limbs of the body – each for a task. Slaves were also for thinking. The nomenclatores (nobility of Rome) used slaves for comprehensive assistance to everything they did – eating, going to bed, even greeting friends on the owner’s behalf. Slaves learnt poetry, and were required to stand behind the master to provide suitable quotes. Beautiful slaves were used for decoration. Talented slaves had to perform for entertainment and sometimes even present obscene repartee. As entertainment pornographic plays were performed by slaves. Guests wiped their soiled hands on slaves’ hair. Freaky bodily disfigurement, like dwarfs, giants and others was used for entertainment. The angel paints the grim picture of a society that could only lead to doom and punishment. For this the merchants mourned.
Shipmasters were the businessmen of the ports important to transport the goods. They were wealthy because of the obscene extravagance of the caesars. They lament, not for Rome; only for themselves. There is a complete lack of friendship and love.
Friendship is a gift from God – don’t take it for granted. Just to have somebody who feels sorry for what you are going through and pray with you, is more valuable than any wealth or fame.
There is joy in the middle of everything (18:20). Joy in God’s vengeance and judgment, brings rest and peace. We do not have to judge or punish. Leave it all to God. (Deuteronomy 32:43 and Jeremiah 51:48)
Final desolation is described in 18:21-24. Rome will be obliterated, illustrated by the symbolic action of throwing a millstone into the sea. The heavy rock will be impossible to haul out again. There will be no way that the final judgment of God could ever be reversed.
…then you shall say, ‘O Lord, You have spoken against this place to cut it off, so that none shall remain in it, neither man nor beast, but it shall be desolate forever.’ Now it shall be, when you have finished reading this book, that you shall tie a stone to it and throw it out into the Euphrates. Then you shall say, ‘Thus Babylon shall sink and not rise from the catastrophe that I will bring upon her. And they shall be weary.’” (Jeremiah 51:62-64)
God said Tyre shall never be rebuilt (Ezekiel 26:13).
Let us rest in God’s judgment. He is just and faithful and wants everybody to be saved. He is a good God, always. This is His word. Heaven and earth will pass away, but His word will never pass away.